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French Version

Sino-Arab forum agrees to seek doubling of trade volume within 5 years

China and the Arab world will target the energy sector as they seek to double their trade volumes over the next few years, the two sides said as they wrapped up a ministerial forum here Thursday.

An agreement signed on the final day of the China-Arab Cooperation Forum said that Beijing and the 22 Arab League members would hold their first meeting on oil issues over the next three years, according to Xinhua news agency.

"The two sides attach importance to energy cooperation, particularly the cooperation in the sectors of oil, natural gas and renewable energy," said a document outlining the forum's plans for 2006 to 2008, Xinhua reported.

Mohammad Hussein al-Shaali, state minister for foreign affairs of the United Arab Emirates and a co-chair of the forum, told reporters there was a common target to double bilateral trade to $100 billion by 2010.

Trade between China and the 22 oil and gas-rich member states of the Arab League last year totalled $51.3 billion.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, who also co-chaired the forum along with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, was even more optimistic about the pace of economic development with energy-hungry China.

"This represents just a beginning and we hope it can be even greater," Moussa said, adding that he hoped trade between the Arab world and China could double within two to three years.

During the first day of the forum on Wednesday, Chinese State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan urged Arab countries to expand energy cooperation with China, and also spoke of hopes to double bilateral trade by 2010.

China, the world's second largest energy consumer behind the United States, has already worked extremely hard in recent years to secure energy resources from the Arab world and the Middle East.

Fifty-eight percent of China's oil imports come from the Middle East, according to the Washington-based Institute for the Analysis of Global Security.

But, with domestic demand increasing by about 15 percent annually as its population of 1.3 billion people has become increasingly wealthy, it has made no secret of the fact that it needs more oil and gas from Arab nations.

Chinese President Hu Jintao traveled to Saudi Arabia in April and discussed a proposal with King Abdullah to set up a Saudi-fed strategic oil reserve in China.

Saudi Arabia is China's biggest crude supplier, exporting 22.18 million tons last year.

At the end of the forum Thursday, officials from the two sides also signed other agreements including a joint communiquŽ, in which they agreed to step up anti-terror cooperation, and an environmental protection document.

Meanwhile, the Arab League's Moussa again called for Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territory.

"The Palestinian question is one of military occupation. It is not a terrorist issue. And it is one that should be solved through negotiations," he told reporters.

The China-Arab Cooperation Forum ministerial meeting was a gathering of foreign ministers or their representatives.

Mahmoud al-Zahhar, the senior Hamas figure who is Palestinian foreign minister, attended the forum despite Israeli and US-led efforts to isolate the militant Islamic movement on the international stage.

China became the second United Nations Security Council member after Russia to host a Hamas leader since the group formed a government following its victory in Palestinian elections in January.

The Daily Star

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